Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Deer-hunting times a changin'

Mike RaykoviczIt’s no secret that by 2015, New York hunters will see some changes in the way deer are hunted and managed. The hunting population here in New York as well as in other states is aging and many hunters are looking for bigger racked deer than just the spikes and forkhorns that make up the majority of bucks currently harvested

One of the possible proposed changes in New York deer regulations involves protecting yearling bucks, which means mainly spikes and forkhorns. This change is being considered because there is a growing movement coming from hunters for the implementation of antler restrictions. Antler restrictions, they say, will protect these one-and-a-half-year-old bucks so they develop better and bigger antlers in subsequent years. In fact most, if not all of the bowhunters I know already do voluntarily let the smaller bucks walk with the hope of getting one of the bigger bucks with nicer antlers. On the other hand, I’ve read articles written by other deer managers advocating shooting the smaller racked bucks because they only pass on their inferior genes to subsequent generations. So, who’s right?

I share my bow season between New York and Pennsylvania, where antler restrictions have been in place for about 10 years. I must say, after the howls of protest died down, many Pennsylvania hunters are happy with the antler restrictions and are reporting they are now seeing bigger bucks than they ever have before. Pennsylvania Game Commission research projects over the past 10 years show nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent of yearlings carrying their first set of antlers now survive a first hunting season to become adults. By sparing the yearling bucks, it seems Pennsylvania’s deer managers were right and bigger bucks are now being harvested by Keystone state hunters. But it’s not easy being charged with managing the state’s deer herd because no matter which regulation changes are made, there is sure to be those who oppose them, and mandatory antler restrictions lead the list.

Personally, I favor antler restrictions and I’ve joined many of my fellow hunters who won’t shoot any buck with fewer than three points to one side, but that’s just me. Who’s to say what’s right for everybody, because the guys who only get out for several days every season would love to shoot a buck, any buck, regardless the number of points. These guys will tell you, “'ya can’t eat horns,” and they are right. Who am I to tell them they can’t shoot a spike or forkhorn if they want to?  However, they can choose to shoot a doe and let the spikes and forkhorns walk. 

Antler restrictions are being called for by hunters in various parts of the state, but they are also seeing varying degrees of support by hunters in those areas. Rather than risking an all-out war between hunters with opposing views, I think other management tools can be implemented that will effectively manage the state’s deer herd so it’s compatible with the carrying capacity of the environment while maintaining hunter satisfaction as to the number of deer seen, especially bucks. It remains uncertain exactly what changes will take place, but one thing that is certain is there will be changes made in how New Yorkers hunt deer. 

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